Thursday, January 19, 2012

As Rare As Hen's Teeth 1: Expat Requests

"Proper chocolates" are a desired commodity among many expats. In fact, I've never noted it not being greatly appreciated.

The last few trips friends there have asked me to bring them coffee beans, sharp cheddar cheese and what they call "proper chocolate", something that will actually melt in your mouth as opposed to the waxy warm-climate chocolate that's offered for sale in Thailand.

The coffee requests have surprised me because there are several chains there that do quite a trade in it, including that green-colored place based in Seattle that I do my level best to ignore wherever I go.  I'd rather go without coffee than support those folks, and personally I put them just a notch below that clown's hamburger chain.  My best friend grew up on a coffee farm and thinks they over-roast their beans.  "Why would anyone want burnt coffee?" is the question I get from them, and I don't have an answer for that.  Anyway, the topic isn't my coffee bean preferences, it's things that would be welcomed by expats and some Thai folks. . . and a pound or two or Peet's coffee (or another quality brand) have always hit a home run with folks there.  The person's favorite brand of tea may not be available there, either, and would be a light and welcome gift.

Hot dogs, aside from what pass as sausages in Thailand, are something expats have problems finding there, and there still seems to be an ongoing debate on a few forums regarding what constitutes a "real" pastrami sandwich. Some of this is just quibbling on details from personal preferences, but a decent hot dog truly isn't all that common, from my experiences, anyway.

Fresh and/or perishable items are a challenge, but if you stop and think about it you'll probably find a way; necessity being the mother of invention, and all that.  Being that some of you will be seeing friends the first or second day after arriving you can care for things long enough to get them there safely, as I have.

Cheese, for example. After doing some online research without much luck I called a cheese processing company and explained the challenge. The good folks at Tillamook to the North of me assured me that as long as the brick was still sealed, kept as cold as possible until going into my suitcase (wrapped in some clothes as insulation) that it would keep just fine for at least 36 hours, which was much more than enough time for me to get from my front door to my room in Thailand, where it went into the room's refrigerator.  The next day there were smiles all around the office when friends found out there was sharp cheddar cheese in the break room. Two full pounds of it didn't last the day, as I recall.  By the way, freezing cheese to take along changes its consistency when it's thawed, and I wouldn't recommend it.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) didn't know quite what to make of it, and probably thought the worst because when I opened my bag in Thailand I found the standard notice saying "we have opened your luggage and inspected the contents," which I've gotten somewhat used to finding. If I were looking at a screen and saw something dense the size of a brick I'd probably be interested in seeing what it was, too.

Internet image, not mine
The first time my luggage was hand inspected on the way to the plane was when I was taking four Magic 8-balls to the students I sponsor there, and those items all lined up in a row aroused some curiosity, too. Why 8-balls? See the post from Friday the 13th - or the one about joking about death on a song taew in Chiang Mai.

My notice hadn't been personalized like the one a woman got advising her to "get your freak on" that was in the news a while back (the resolution for that instance is noted by the TSA here), but it gives you a kind of odd feeling to think someone's been going through your things.  Unfortunately, it's all part of travel now.

But I'm off topic. Sorry.

Chocolate - at least, the style we're used to in the West - melts too easily to be practical for regular distribution there, and while you can buy the same brands they don't usually have the mouth feel of the creamier style you're more than likely used to.  Sees candies is a favorite with one of my best female friends there, and I make a habit of taking her a pound or two each visit. She's an expat from the United Kingdom and provides me with so much help when I'm there that she's well worth the effort.  When I arrive at my room there I put the box into the refrigerator and it holds just fine.

Another good friend I'd taken a box to left it open to share with their office mates while we went to lunch, and the photo up top today shows how it looked when we returned.  At least they had the decency not to poke a hole in the bottom to see what the filling was and then put it back - with any that were left, anyway.

A commodity that isn't difficult to find but is somewhat expensive is peanut butter.  There's a story from way back about my visit to a Thai prison that tells more about the sticky stuff, and if you know a PB-aholic they may be quite pleased with a large container of Skippy Super Chunk.

Another somewhat pricey item in Thailand is beef jerky.  I've had a standing request for that for some time now.

Specific spices and herbs have been requested, too.  Some prepared concoctions for soup, dip and the likes can hit a familiar place, too, but those are more personalized and you'd need to ask the recipient in advance.  Goodness knows they go out of their way often enough to help we visitors - it seems a small thing to do to show how they and their help are appreciated.

That's a start.  When we come back to the topic another time I'll share some things my Thai friends are always happy to see.

Is there something you or friends there have trouble finding that you'd care to share with us?  Leave a comment, if you would.


ChristianPFC said...

Cheddar Cheese! I recently had a friend from England bring some for me to France.

In your post it is not clear (or I didn't read careful enough) whether you checked the cheese in or had it in hand luggage. I once found my hold luggage being cold, because the hold cools down during flight. Therefore, if I bring food (half a kilogramm of mangosteen back to Europe), I put it into the hold luggage.

khunbaobao said...

Good question, Christian - I check it through, so yes, it's in the "hold". The cabin is heated, so it's better checked... but it also gets your bags opened sometimes.

Ah, I wish I could bring pomello back to the US, but I can't, so I eat my fill of it there.

[Note to those who take some of the prescription drugs available for cholesterol - pomello or grapefruit can interfere with them, so ask your doctor]